"I've got the world's largest pubic mound," Margaret Cho yells. She's joking about her weight again -- -one of her comedy-show standards along with her family (her Korean mother leaves hysterical messages on her answering machine and has a curious fascination with gay porn) and her hometown of San Francisco, with its left-over hippies and gay community. ("When I was little, I always wanted to be surrounded by lots of gorgeous guys," Cho says. "I should have been more specific.") Onstage she shrieks and mocks, imitating her mother and revealing things that wielded by any other comedian would make the audience hush with discomfort instead of howl with understanding.
"I think as human beings we all are privy to every type of experience -- shame, embarrassment, pain -- so in a sense nothing is personal," she says. "We've all felt it. I may have done some things that people might think are shameful or embarrassing, but we've all had those times, so the realm of the personal isn't there. I'm never embarrassed for myself."
With her new comedy show I'm the One That I Want, Cho adds her failed stint as a television star to the fold. Her show All-American Girl was supposed to be a toned-down version of her brutally honest and always funny stand-up performances. Instead it was accused of being both too stereotypical and not Korean-American enough. Cho was accused of being fat, or "full-faced," as the network reps put it. She lost 30 pounds in two weeks, her kidneys failed, and she was hospitalized. As the show went downhill and was eventually cancelled, Cho had a similar descent. She did too many drinks, drugs, and men (and occasionally women). Then she had a moment of clarity, or as she puts it, "What kind of fucked-up Mötley Crüe Behind the Music bullshit is this?"
The Majestic Theatre,
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She puts these troubles, like the rest of her life, on display in her act, which she's taking across the United States through June, selling out theaters and inspiring such stories as "Cho Must Go On," "No Business Like Cho Business," and "Cho and Tell." If her tour has record-breaking success, the headlines likely will read "Cho Me the Money." Two of her performances were taped for a feature-length film also called I'm the One That I Want, which will be released later this year. She'll tour with that, then next year she'll release a book based on the show and tour again to support it.
"The book goes a little further," Cho says. "There are more insights. I'm very proud of it. It's a different way to tell a story, a way that I'm not used to in acting. I've been writing for a long time. I write my own stand-up. It's just a different way to present to the audience. People will get to know me better, and I love that. I love them. They're friends and fans." While that might sound trite, Cho is serious. Offstage she's shyly earnest; her voice is as sweet and calm as it can be harsh and loud when she's confronting life onstage. Her fans stuck with her after All-American Girl and the following haze, so now she works for them.
"They come to be entertained, so to me the real star of the show is the audience, not me," she says. "I'm here to please them. I think I understand the importance of being in the audience and needing something from the performance, some sort of experience that will delight the audience. The audience needs you to give them a transformative experience. They connect to me and feel better about things that have happened to them that they are ashamed of, embarrassed of, that are painful, and they leave feeling better. It's a very emotional experience for everyone." And they don't even need a large pubic mound to relate.